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  • Writer's pictureKatie Paterson

The halfway point - here's what I know so far

There is only one formal examination before your final PhD submission. It's called different things at different institutions, but at Guildhall it is the Upgrade, and I have just submitted mine. This is the moment when external examiners will consider my work-in-progress and determine whether it will ultimately lead to a PhD worth examining. No pressure!

It has, in fact, been a surprisingly enjoyable process of reflection and of challenging questions. I'm pleasantly surprised to find I have a lot to write about, despite a cancelled VAULT Festival and what feels like endless procrastination. The submission is as follows:

1) An extremely concise seven-thousand-word-document, detailing the context, methodology and conclusions of my practice-research piece;

2) Said piece, First Bite, in video form.

3) Appendices and references including a full script, I-Poems, future plans and references.

This is all followed up with a Viva Voce or oral examination in a few weeks time; the Viva is notionally to confirm that a candidate has actually written their submission, as well afford them the opportunity to defend its contents. As much as an hour long oral examination is daunting, it is an amazing opportunity to discuss my work with people I respect and admire, who know far more than I do.

I'm currently taking a short course in stand-up comedy, in which we were advised to make lists. Here is a list of everything I've learned so far in my PhD:

#1 - Lists are essential

I cannot do anything without a list in place. My phone is full of notes that start 'Monday: get up.' There's no shame in writing something down you've already managed, just for the pure joy of ticking it off. I particularly enjoy Get Shit Done List, which gives you credit for showering, orgasms, and eating 1 of your 5 a day.

#2 - Procrastination is not the enemy

I'm constantly beating myself up about procrastinating, but the truth is that I can expand any task to fit the time available, and I work best under pressure. A wise stage management tutor once told me that last minute people are last minute people; accept it about yourself, and enjoy the time you waste.

There is a caveat/coping mechanism here though, which I call bread-crumbing. As a generous gift to future-you, what little things can you do to make it easier when you get to the last minute?

“If it weren't for the last minute, nothing would get done.” Rita Mae Brown.

#3 - Laughter follows darkness

In the interviews I've conducted so far I've been struck by how frequently contributor's laugh or make jokes after sharing something objectively bleak. The instinct to break tension with humour seems deep-seated, and it reassures me that my tendency to bring comedy into serious performances is not entirely inappropriate; it seems to reflect a need that we feel to connect in order to share our pain, as well as our pleasure.

#4 - Limits can be liberating

I started a practical drama PhD in a pandemic, meaning that absolutely nothing has happened as I planned. As much as there have been some disappointments I feel lucky to had work at all in such a difficult period, and to have been forced to challenge my patterns and processes. Reframing the Barbican event as a recording altered my priorities and opened up a different approach to the interviews; the cancellation of the VAULT Festival meant a planned R&D week became entirely process oriented, without any pressure on the end product. I wouldn't choose these impacts, but it has been good for my catastrophising-prone brain to learn some resilience, and to let go a bit.

#5 - Not-knowing is the research buzzword

I'm sure it's true that what you seek out is what finds you; even so, I cannot seem to move for variations of the phrase not-knowing/unknowing/unlearning. It's deeply reassuring to find an online community of early career researchers memeing 24/7 about what we all find to be true, that the more you learn the less you know. It's equally comforting to hear distinguished, established academics endorse it as an important process, something to be reached for. The more confident we can be in our own unknowing, the more free we might be to learn something new.

The next steps; upgrade and beyond

I'm currently preoccupied with procrastinating my Viva preparation, and attempting to find a new home for Side FX this Spring/Summer. After those hurdles, I'm hoping to engage in some deep reading and reflection on the direction of my project. It's so important to me that the work is useful, not in the instrumentalist sense of serving a clear purpose so much as in a spirit of generosity. Two of my idols, Lucy McCormick and Bryony Kimmings, speak about generosity as a motivator for solo/autobiographical work, an impetus to share something personal that immediately stops being about you. That's what I'm trying to hold as I go forward; to follow the generous reason for doing this.

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